About Me! Writing, Pickles, and Netflix

Hey everyone!

My name is Neia, I’m a 4th year arts student majoring in English Literature and minoring in Sociology. I’m from Richmond, BC and have lived in this city my whole life. Fun fact: I lived on campus for my first year and didn’t really enjoy myself as much as I could’ve because the person in the room next to mine would always blast loud house music at absurd hours (no hate to house music, I just enjoy sleeping is all). Sorry, as that sentence has perfectly shown, I’m pretty new to the whole blogging thing/ blogverse, so random comments may get interspersed throughout this introductory piece. Bear with me!

I spend a lot of my time in the Steveston area, partly because that’s where a lot of my friends live, and partly because I just absolutely love it there. Not sure if any of you are from that area, but I am obsessed with Timothy’s (ice-cream place). Espresso flake ice cream in a waffle cone… It’s all I eat. Not kidding. Oh, and since we’re on the topic of food, it’s worth noting that I am a big fan of pickles too.

While it may be a given since I am a lit major, I am really interested in writing and hope to get into a journalism program in the future. Aside from writing I enjoy reading, traveling (I love visiting New York in particular), binge-watching Netflix series (I am not kidding when I say that I am avid binge-watcher, currently taking suggestions**), and spending time with my family. I’m pretty big on spending time with my family; I have 3 brothers and I’m really close to all of them, along with my mom as well.

I’m excited for this course because I am interested in broadening my knowledge of Canadian authors and Canadian literature in general. I think it would be immensely beneficial to learn more about our country through the perspectives of fellow Canadians as well. I haven’t really done this whole online course thing, so I’m really excited to interact with all of you on here!

Okay, I guess that’s about it! Can’t wait to start learning with you guys!

– Neia




Balao, Neia. “7 More Reasons Why Rey is the REAL Miss Universe” Buzzfeed. Buzz Feed, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

Bate, Elizabeth. “Which Show On Netflix Should You Binge-Watch Next?” Buzzfeed. Buzz Feed, 17 Jul. 2015. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

Gay, Verne. “Best TV shows to stream online via Netflix, Hulu, more” Newsday. Newsday, 26 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

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Rights of Man

Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

Thomas Paine is a curious character, whose legacy is hard to assess. But perhaps this is why it is all the more important to (re)read him. His difficulties, ambiguities, and ambivalences, in the midst of the eighteenth-century “Age of Revolutions,” may resemble our own in what are at first sight rather less revolutionary times. But perhaps our times are every bit as revolutionary as Paine’s: he spends much of his celebrated Rights of Man reporting back from abroad; and we are also faced with upheavals elsewhere (from Syria to Venezuela, Egypt to the Ukraine) that give rise to divided opinions and uncertain allegiances.

The first part of Paine’s book is, after all, given over mostly to a stinging attack on Edmund Burke’s critical account of the French Revolution. For Paine, Burke provides more fiction than fact. Specifically, his conservative opponent concocts a kind of moral drama full of “theatrical exaggerations” and “poetical liberties [. . .] omitting some facts, distorting others, and making the whole machinery bend to produce a stage effect” (23-4). In response, then, Rights of Man provides a rather soberer description of recent history, stressing the “cool deliberation” characterizing the creation of a National Assembly (60) and its lack of “mean passions” or vindictiveness against its enemies (64). Indeed, if anything, Paine rather downplays the novelty of the revolution itself, framing it as the logical result of a prior collective prise de conscience: “The mind of the nation had changed beforehand, and the new order of things has naturally followed the new order of thoughts” (51).

Yet it is not as though Paine himself were above playing to the gallery. This book was originally a pamphlet (two, in fact) that sought–and achieved–high circulation thanks as much to its witty ripostes as to its patient explication. Paine shows himself a master of rhetorical and literary figures, from metaphor to hyperbole: Burke, for instance, is described as “mounted in the air like a balloon, to draw the eyes of the multitude from the ground they stand on” (35); his discourse is discounted as “a wild unsystematical display of paradoxical rhapsodies” (35). And yet there is something rhapsodical about Paine’s text, too, and unabashedly so. Indeed, in part two Paine relishes the popular success of the first part of his tract (“I suppose the number of copies [to have been . . .] not less than forty and fifty thousand” [100-1]) and then immediately takes the opportunity to make a pun on Burke’s charge that it should be subject to “criminal justice”: “it must be criminal justice indeed that should condemn a work as a substitute for not being able to refute it” (101). In short, the Rights of Man is infused throughout with a sort of glee–one might even say jouissance–that might be thought to undercut the emphasis it otherwise places on the triumph of reason.

It helps of course that Paine feels he is very much on the right side of history. The problem with Burke, he claims, is not so much his failure to understand what was going on in France (or America) as his insight into the implications for England: “He writes in a rage against the National Assembly, but what is he enraged about? [. . .] Alas! It is not the Nation of France that Mr Burke means, but the COURT; and every Court in Europe, dreading the same fate, is in mourning” (88). Paine, meanwhile, takes the same revolutionary events to indicate that “spring is begun” (196), that we are promised “a new era to the human race” (106), and goes so far as to venture that he does “not believe that monarchy and aristocracy will continue seven years longer in any of the enlightened countries in Europe” (102). “The present generation,” he tells us, “will appear to the future as the Adam of a new world” (191). Sadly, perhaps, Paine’s enthusiasm is not exactly borne out by events. He himself would go on to be arrested (and very nearly executed) by the French. And one wonders what he would make of his glowing account of American Exceptionalism now.

But what kind of revolutionary was Paine? Given that he seems to think that the main burden of government (corrupt or otherwise) comes in the form of taxation, he could easily be read as a forerunner of the Tea Party or other right-wing libertarians. At the same time, he also seems to believe in a kind of basic sociability or commonality promoted by everyday interaction and habit (as well as trade). And yet he spends much of part two of his book coming up with a rather detailed plan of how to redistribute surplus tax revenue (once the monarchy and privileges of landholders have been abolished) that sounds much like the foundation of what could almost be a welfare state: in place of large monopolies of land, pensions and child benefit. In short, one might even believe that Paine was not only as rhapsodical but in some ways as paradoxical as Burke, as he see-sawed between calls for less government on the one hand, and on the other comprehensive proposals that would bring on more government. The new era that he proclaimed combines both the right to revolt, the refusal to be weighed down by tradition, and also the beginnings of biopolitics, the ever more insidious advance of power relations within the population.

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Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey cover

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey pulls off the difficult feat of being both relentlessly self-reflexive and (on the whole) a genuinely enjoyable read. It is, after all, a commentary on the writing and reading of novels, and more specifically on the then-popular genre of the gothic romance. The commentary is both diegetic and extradiegetic: conveyed by individual characters and also by a narrator who claims (to some extent at least) to transcend and stand outside the action. I say that the narrator is only able to transcend the action “to some extent” in that she (or he) recognizes that this novel, too, is bound by (or chooses to be bound by) many of the same conventions that structure the object of its reflection. Hence the form of Austen’s novel itself also provides a commentary on novel-writing and, again, on popular genres in particular. Any distance that Austen takes from what she (or her narrator) sometimes calls her “sister author[s]” (81) can only be temporary or provisional. Ultimately, they are all in this together even (especially) if Austen chooses to parody and so implicitly criticize (but also mimic) some of the structural expectations of the genre.

To put it another way: this is a novel that repeatedly switches between critique and indulgence. It plays a double game of ostensibly taking its distance itself from the gothic commonplaces (“gloomy passages [. . .] ponderous chest[s] [. . .] unintelligible hints [. . .] violent storm[s]” [115]; “dreadful situations and horrid scenes [. . .] midnight assassins or drunken gallants” [122]) that it so hilariously sends up, and at the same time indulging itself in precisely these same clichés. It’s as though Austen were allowing us to partake of a guilty pleasure: her critical jabs at the genre absolve us of most of the guilt, and leave us with almost all the pleasure. In short, here Austinian irony comes close to the postmodern sense of the term: a knowing imitation whose knowingness supposedly absolves it from complicity.

Except that Austen doesn’t quite let her readers–or even herself–off the hook. She undoubtedly agrees with Henry Tilney, her heroine’s suitor, that “the person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid” (77). We can’t, or shouldn’t, deny the pleasure that novels bring us. But this is not to say that we cannot question that pleasure. Indeed, Austen has quite a complicated relationship to pleasure: she is far from averse even to the simplest (“unaffected” [23]) of pleasures, and indeed is skeptical of the mannered pedagogy in taste that Henry elsewhere offers in the form of a “lecture on the picturesque” (81). At the same time, she is consistently critical of those characters whose only concern is with their own pleasure, and who neglect therefore duty and responsibility. A novel, for Austen, also has its responsibilities–and in the case of Northanger Abbey, that involves perhaps above all an education in the power of self-reflection, and its significant but subtle difference from self-regard.

Ultimately, however, I think that Austen shows herself to be dissatisfied by her approach in this early novel. Her rush to conclude at the end, jumping through the hoops of formulaic conventions without taking the time to allow us to enjoy them, pulls the rug from under our feet. In the novel’s final few pages, which hurtle us towards our hero and heroine’s marriage (“the bells rang and every body smiled” [186]), while reminding us rather too insistently of “the rules of composition” (186), feel churlish at best: as though she felt she had to fulfill the promises that her acceptance of generic conventions implied, but no longer got much pleasure in doing so… or perhaps feared that she had already over-indulged both herself and her readers. There is something anticlimactic about this conclusion, and it makes sense that in subsequent novels she will perfect a properly Austinian irony, leaving behind the (perhaps too crude) pleasures of imitations whose knowingness is never alibi enough.

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Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, cover

Chinua Achebe’s classic novel Things Fall Apart (1958) is often seen as a riposte to European representations of African life and culture, not least for instance Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which Achebe memorably described as the work of “a thoroughgoing racist.” Achebe’s critique is that Conrad’s novella treats “Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril.” Moreover, he continues, “The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world.”

I wonder, however, about the effectiveness of this riposte. Not least because Things Fall Apart reads as an extended obituary to a vanished way of life and as such mimics a quasi-anthropological perspective on colonized cultures. However much Achebe wants to distinguish himself not only from Conrad but also from the colonial District Commissioner who features at the book’s conclusion as a would-be ethnologist contemplating writing a book to be entitled “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger” (209), he sustains rather than undermines the tropes that enable such Eurocentric visions.

Achebe’s novel is certainly obsessed with mourning and death: both the ultimate suicide of its protagonist, Okonkwo, a strongman in an Ibo village called Umuofia, and the vanishing of the precolonial customs and structures with which Okonkwo’s demise is associated. Okonkwo is an ambitious striver, whose rash actions lead first to his exile from the community and later to his killing himself (an unholy action) as he realizes that resistance to cultural invasion is apparently futile. But this has already been foretold: towards the end, after a convert interrupts a ritual performance and unmasks one of its participants, we hear that “the Mother of the Spirits walked the length and breadth of the clan, weeping for her murdered son. [. . .] Not even the oldest man in Umuofia had ever heard such a strange and terrible sound, and it was never to be heard again. It seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming–its own death” (187). We are, I think, to share in this sorrow, and thus to condemn the coming of the colonizers.

But such lamentation is a typical feature of colonial discourse itself, which regularly mourned–and continues to mourn–the destruction of indigenous practices and lifestyles for which it itself was and is responsible. From the cult of the “noble savage” and The Last of the Mohicans to the fascination towards supposedly uncontacted tribes from Amazonian Peru to the Andamans, imperial powers have always professed ambivalence towards the consequences of modernization and/or development. But this mourning is expressed so as to suggest that these are the inevitable victims of a progress that is unstoppable, the price we pay for so-called civilization. At the same time, the anthropological lament tells us that as soon as the pristine authenticity of the indigenous is compromised, they cease to be (really) indigenous at all. Hence, it is not only no use trying to save the victims of colonization: in that as soon as we know of them they are irredeemably transformed (acculturated, inauthentic), it is not worth saving them either.

Perhaps the success of Achebe’s book, as no doubt (and by some distance) the best-known and best-selling novel written by a black African, is due to its playing into precisely this colonial fantasy. It helps that its narrative is set in some rather vague and imprecise past: the Ibo are presented very much as people without history, whose way of life is perpetuated through constant repetition undergirded by folk memory. As the colonizers arrive, inducing a “terrible sound” never heard before and “never to be heard again,” this is the eruption of a new mode of temporality into an otherwise relatively static (at best, cyclical) way of life. Okonkwo then has to die, in a foolhardy act of useless resistance, because his life is unimaginable after the taint of Western corruption has come.

In fact, however, the Ibo (now usually called Igbo) have had a rather more interesting postcolonial history than the novel suggests. Indeed, the very notion of Igbo identity is itself largely the product of colonial contact, and led to a dramatic twentieth-century history (not least the Biafra rebellion) in which Achebe himself played a not insignificant part. But this afterlife of the I(g)bo would come as a surprise to a reader of the novel, riven through as it is with an air of chilling finality. And I would argue that this attempt (almost literally) to close the book on I(g)bo culture is as dehumanizing as anything to be found in Conrad or his ilk. For it denies them their human complexity, even as the figure of Okonkwo himself (twice over traitor to his tribe) points indirectly to the mythic dimension of the dream of precolonial purity.

For more, see my lecture on Arts One Open.

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It is not always entirely clear who (if anyone) or what is the tragic hero(ine) in Sophocles’s Antigone, or what exactly is the nature of their tragedy. One might have thought that the tragic figure was the eponymous Antigone herself, but the Chorus suggests otherwise. Their focus, at least as the play ends, is rather on her uncle, King Kreon, who likewise seems to feels the burden of tragedy lies mainly on himself: “No, no! / I’m rising on horror, and horror flies. / Why don’t you hack me down? / Has someone a sword? / I and grief are blended. I am grief” (71). And as for the cause of his downfall, the Chorus has already proposed that “Kreon has shown that there is no greater evil / than men’s failure to consult and to consider” (69). Hence perhaps their conclusion, that “For their grand schemes or bold words / the proud pay with great wounds” (72).

And yet Kreon shows little of the complexity and ambiguity that we associate with the tragic hero. For modern audiences especially (but not only), the focus of the play is surely throughout on Antigone, torn between the edicts of the state and the responsibilities of kinship. She is, on the whole, a far more sympathetic figure, even if–or perhaps because–we recognize from the start (as she certainly does) that her principled stand is bound to lead to her destruction. She sacrifices herself for the sake of loyalty to her dead brother, whose corpse Kreon has declared should remain unburied because he died fighting against his own city. But though it may just be true that the Chorus’s final lines are directed at her, too, it is surely a harsh judgment to blame her for “grand schemes or bold words” or to accuse her above all of pride. Or rather, though she has indeed spoken boldly and refused to renounce her pride in familial identification with her kin, to pinpoint these sins seems to miss the mark or misjudge the tone of all that has gone before. We may justifiably feel that the Chorus perhaps hasn’t really understood Antigone, even by the play’s close. Which leaves us with a curious sense of irresolution at the end.

One response to this problem is to point out how wrong, perhaps in this play above all, is the common notion that the audience is expected to identify with the Greek tragic Chorus. For in Antigone there is from the outset something discordant and misguided about their pronouncements. That sense that they are somehow out of tune and don’t really understand is palpable at the time, and not merely in hindsight. Indeed, unlike Oedipus the King, this is not a play about hindsight at all–at least not for Antigone herself. She knows exactly what she is getting into, and we do, too, when she declares to her sister, Ismene: “Leave me alone, with my hopeless scheme; / I’m ready to suffer for it and to die” (25). Kreon may not anticipate the results of his ill-thought edict (and so for him it is perhaps a tragedy of hindsight), and the Chorus may be likewise blind to what is coming, but for the rest of us this is a play that holds few if any surprises. We see a woman march, with open eyes, towards her fate. To put this another way, we could say that this is not a play about hegemony. At least, it has to be admitted that Antigone is outside of any hegemonic relation; this is what constitutes her subalternity.

But is then Antigone in fact a tragedy of hegemony by default? It is Kreon’s tragedy precisely that he thinks he can institute a hegemonic pact with his citizens? And perhaps the Chorus’s tragedy that they think so, too… and indeed continue to think so to the last, never less than in their conviction that the moral of the story is that rulers should rule with more consultation. Here, then, is perhaps the source of our distance from the Chorus, our strange sense that their discourse has little purchase on the actions we see unfold before us, little relation to the speeches that other characters make–and that this is the case right from the start and on beyond the play’s closing lines. The tragedy of hegemony is its irrelevance, the way in which it (here, literally) misses the plot and continues to do so.

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Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria

Freud, Dora

In one of his final essays, “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” (1937), Sigmund Freud writes that “it almost looks as if analysis were the third of those ‘impossible’ professions in which one can be sure beforehand of achieving unsatisfying results. The other two, which have been known much longer, are education and government.” In some ways this is a rather dispiriting conclusion to a life’s work, though it fits with the melancholy tone of much of Freud’s later pronouncements, written in exile from Nazism and in the shadow of impending world war. See for instance the last sentence tacked on to the end of Civilization and its Discontents in 1931, tempering its hitherto relatively upbeat conclusion about the return of Eros: “But who can foresee with what success and with what result?”

At the same time, there is also a resigned determination here reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable: “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Just because an enterprise is doomed to failure doesn’t mean it’s not worth undertaking. The fact that something is impossible doesn’t necessarily mean we should cease striving towards it. Few would suggest we give up on education or government however much they, too, are destined to “unsatisfying results.” Like Sisyphus, we roll the stone up the hill once more.

What is interesting is that, for all the confident tone of Freud’s earlier writings, in which he presents himself as the heroic scientist or explorer uncovering an entire new world, failure was always inscribed into the heart of psychoanalysis. Famously, he seldom held up much hope for a cure to the human condition or the various psychological maladies that afflict us. As early as Studies in Hysteria (1895), the most that he felt able to promise was to transform “hysterical misery into everyday unhappiness.” Moreover, his first published case study, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905), ostensibly presented as the confirmation of certain of Freud’s insights on dream analysis and symptomology, is also manifestly a narrative of a failed analysis. After a mere couple of months, the patient gives up on the treatment as though quitting a bad habit at year’s end: “she said good-bye to me very warmly, with the heartiest wishes for the New Year, and–came no more” (100).

Not that Freud is all that apologetic for his failure with Dora. If anything, quite the contrary: he takes her decision to break off the analysis as confirmation of his interpretation of her symptoms, and of his theories in general. For the problem with Dora is her “craving for revenge” (101), exacted against all those who show her affection. She treats those around her (particularly the men) with what Freud calls “an almost malignant vindictiveness” (96). No surprise, then, that he should characterize her behavior with him as “an unmistakable act of vengeance on her part” (100). That is just how she is. And the fact that Freud should be receiving the same treatment as she doled out to her mother, her father, and family friend “Herr K.” merely demonstrates that the analysis is working, and that transference is setting in. After all, Freud concludes, “No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed” (100).

There are some harsh words here reserved for Dora. It is as though it were a case more of exorcism than of therapy. No doubt the young woman in question would have her own choice words to say in return. But she is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t: continuing the analysis legitimates her treatment as much as breaking it off also ended up doing; when she is on the couch, all her protestations are taken simply as instances of denial. And at the end of the day, when this “talking cure” is written up, it is Freud who does all the talking (and none of the cure).

The sad irony is that the reason Dora comes (or is brought) to Freud in the first place concerns a story she tells that nobody will believe. She has been out for a stroll with an older man (Herr K.), who apparently propositioned her, getting a slap across the face for his efforts. K., who is married (though in a somewhat sordid ménage a quatre his wife turns out to be Dora’s father’s mistress), vehemently denies that anything of the sort took place. And though Freud believes Dora’s story, he does so only to turn the tables on Dora’s own denial that she was interested in K. Isn’t she secretly in love with him after all, the analyst asks? Doesn’t she turn him down only because she was jealous that he had (it seems) earlier also tried to force himself on his family’s governess? Or was she simply playing hard to get? After all, she didn’t even mention the scene until a fortnight afterwards, as she was waiting “so as to see whether he would repeat his proposals; if he had, [she] would have concluded that he was in earnest, and did not mean to play with [her] as he had done with the governess” (98). K. himself, meanwhile, can hardly be blamed for being disappointed at Dora’s apparent rejection of him: surely “he must long before have gathered from innumerable small signs that he was secure of the girl’s affections” (39).

All this has understandably raised the hackles of feminists. Not least because it goes against the grain of the prevailing mantra by which men are (rightly) reminded that women’s agency should be respected: “No means no.” What to do then with a psychoanalytic theory that claims so definitively that “there is no such thing at all as an unconscious ‘No'” (50) and that therefore advises the “inquirer” not to “rest content with the first ‘No’ that crosses his path” (18)?

One response might be to suggest that there is a distinction between an encounter by a lake (or in a bar or wherever) and the analytic couch. Out and about, in normal circumstances, we should take a “no” at face value; perhaps therapy presents a space where such denials can and should be questioned and challenged. But how distinct are those two settings really? Isn’t the danger that the analyst repeats the traumatic situation that inspired the call for help (and this is manifestly his aim: “a whole series of psychological experiences are revived” through transference [106]) only also to replicate the cultural prejudices that were the true source of the trauma… “You did want it, didn’t you?” There are few points at which Freud, for all his scandalous iconoclasm, more clearly reveals himself to be a man of his time, and psychoanalysis to be an agent of normalization and (ultimately) repression. So no wonder its work is never done: as analytic theory itself tells us, repression is never either total or complete.

English 220 Summary of my favorite works and what I liked about the course

Hmm… I would like to talk about one piece of work in the course, but I’m not sure exactly which one, so in the aftermath of the exam, I’m going to talk about…. well the highlights.

Coming into English 220 I had the benefit of being lectured by Professor McNeilly in Arts One.  Moreover, I was practiced in writing literature papers that examined specific themes.

In English 220… I came across some works I really hated, but some works I surprisingly liked.  I also returned to works that I had studied in Arts One, the Tempest and Beowulf.  Beowulf was particularly one of my favorites, but while I perhaps admired it in Arts One, English 220 only deepened my respect for the work.  The in depth discussion and later opportunity to really close read and then interact with the work in the form of my first essay and term paper really opened my eyes and gained me greater appreciation for both Beowulf and its translator, Seamus Heaney.

The Tempest, was a bit of a different experience.  The discussion of Shakespeare, and message on performance, art and the function of spectacle was intriguing, since I was a theatre orientated person… the colonialism undertones didn’t really stand out to me.

Now these works weren’t the only ones I was also exposed to during the course.  There were some new works, some I liked, some I didn’t and others I’m not so sure of.

Take Oronooko… I liked Behn.  I really liked her very persuasive writing style that while occassionally long winded, had a sort of reasonableness to it.  The character of Oronooko, and his wife Imoinda, stood out to me as one of the most tragic couples I’ve ever read about.

Yet, I hated Paradise Lost with a passion and oddly enough, I’m religious.  Perhaps it was the time of year, but I couldn’t read through Milton’s… almost…end on end… colliding sort of writing style that had me constantly guessing on who was speaking what.  The themes and description was good, but I could never appreciate the work so well… perhaps I should return to it in time.

Surprisingly enough, the works within the course, which I consistently liked were found in Metaphysical Poetry.  Two favorites I had were John Donne’s Elegie and Marvell’s The Garden.  I used to hate poetry… now I actually kind of like the metaphors, the conceits, underlying themes of sexuality and gender roles.  The poems that we looked at this year, were… really just good, beautifully sounding, perhaps odd, but still intriguing poetry.

Canterbury Tales and Gulliver’s Travels are the two works I have difficulty thinking about.

On one hand, I expected to like Gulliver’s Travels… recalling the old childhood stories, but I was rather… surprised to say the least at the dark themes and discussions of the ugliness of human nature within the tale.  Not to mention, I just didn’t really like Gulliver’s character… he was gullible.  Still, I admire Swift’s satire, which was explained in great detail by Professor McNeilly.

As for Canterbury tales.  I initially couldn’t make head or tales of the Middle English, later, I was able to, but I still sometimes had to refer to or look up an English translation for reference.  But once I understood or came to grasp with the themes in the General Prologue and Wife of Bath’s Tale and Prologue, I actually found I liked Chauser’s work.  Its funny, discussive, and yet highly intelligent and stimulating to read and think about.

Now, the lectures themselves… its difficult to say on what exactly I learnt from the lectures.  They were very enlightening, although, I admit I sometimes lost track of what was being said.  There was a lot of density in the discussions in class… and powerpoints, which probably would have made the class more rigid (a bad thing because I liked the class’s flexibility and the fact you’d learnt something new or interesting/unexpected every time you’d enter it), but would have made it easier to track and follow the lectures, were lacking. However, I found talking to Professor McNeilly over specific topics after class very enlightening and informative, and often were able to answer any issues I had after the lectures.

All in all, I liked English 220.  I liked it was writing intensive, I liked the works in general.  While I would have preferred it for the lectures to be well not structured, but at least more directed along a very specific theme/topic that could be grounded, the lectures were informative and did provide me with some interesting topics to think about.  It was a fun course to attend.

Thanks Professor McNeilly for a great 1st term of second year,



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Oronooko… staged so that it really hits you when you least expect it.

My feelings for Oronooko is hard to pinpoint.

At first glance I thought it was a tragedy set in the scenes of the age of European Empires.  I did notice its critique on the crime of slavery, and frankly I liked Oronooko as a character.

The lectures shed light onto the story in a way that took me aback.  I did notice something odd about Behn’s way of telling the story… it was as if it was personal, for she keeps inserting herself into the narrative, but at the same time distance, critical of the things she sees, but not actually critical.  The explanation on how Behn is satirizing and dramatizing the scenes and the people in Oronooko revealed quite a bit on why she chose this narrative approach.  It is able to stage the scene very well, like a theatre, and yet like some types of theatre like Brechian theatre, it works to distance the audience from the scene, and force them to ask questions about race.  For, when Oronooko speaks, its as if he is speaking to us, the audience about the crimes of slavery.  And yet, this is Behn’s account of what he speaks… it isn’t really Oronooko’s and it is Oronooko’s.  It still hits you, but the story first gets you into this mode of questioning, that finally forces you to asks the questiosn Behn is wanting you to ask….

Then, when you finally start asking the right questions, Oronooko really hits you when you least expect it to…

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English 220 #3 Post The Voice of Digging and Beowulf

Digging is one of Heaney’s first poems published in his first major compilation of poems Death of a Naturalist.

Compared to… let’s say Donne’s poems, Heaney’s Digging lacks the metaphors that so characterize Donne’s Elegie: to a mistress going to bed.  Digging uses very direct word choice, as opposed to Elegie’s highly complex metaphorical conceits.  Heaney is weighty, almost plodding as opposed to Donne’s persuasive charm, his lewd lilting voice.

Yet, for some reason, Digging although perhaps not as persuasive, not as immersive as Elegie speaks to me better.

Perhaps this is why I decided to choose to examine Digging when asked to expand my close reading of Beowulf and look at the translator’s other works.  The poem, is semi-autobiographical and concerns the cultural reconciliation through language.  Starting with Heaney sitting behind or at a window, the poem shifts to describe the the poet’s forefathers.  Each cut of turf, each scoop of dirt, the poet’s grandfather and father dig potatoes and cut turf, activities heavily associated with Ireland’s history.  These are simple, peasant activities, without Donne’s sexiness, or Behn’s rich imagery, but they have such weight.  The voice of Digging makes these simple actions appear as the most concrete things in the world.

Imagine my surprise when I found the same sound in Beowulf.  The same epic scale, weight directness is spoken in Heaney translation of Beowulf.  He writes that he did this to preserve the words “sounds of sense”  and because he wanted the poem to be able to be spoken by his forefathers, in their Scullion voice.  Why though? I can understand why Heaney chose to portray Digging in his father’s voice, he is talking about his forefathers after all and what better way to reconcile the fact he will follow their footsteps with a pen, then to preserve their voice in his pen?  Why recompose this Anglo-Saxon epic in an Irish voice?

I say, in my essay, that Beowulf and Digging both share the same theme of cultural reconciliation through language.  The use of the Scullion voice was part of Heaney’s efforts to reconcile himself, to connect his heritage with the epic’s heritage.

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English 220 Blog Post #2 Donne

I like Donne.  I’m not sure why I do.  When I read Elegie: To HIs Mistress going to bed, I thought his imagery was fascinating and downright beautiful at times.  He has an incredibly good grasp of metaphor and simile, which goes on to create highly visual poems… that at the same time not just inspire a visual image, but also appeal to your other senses.  Yet, I find that he’s a bit of an oddball.

After all, in Elegie: To HIs Mistress going to Bed, he did strip himself first before his mistress and in fact was fantasizing in advance of his mistress stripping… He comes off as suave, charming, dominant in fact because of how he persuades the mistress to strip… but then we suddenly find out, its he who has submitted, its he who has taken off his clothing.  Say Whaaa?

At the same time, could it be said that Donne has gained a sort of… control over his mistress?  By placing himself in a vulnerable position, by making this beautiful speech to his mistress, he is making a very strong demand for his mistress to join him.  If not over his mistress, over his audience?  By entrapping us in these brilliantly structured metaphors, and spiriting us away to America, we are held in his metaphysical grasp, only for him to let us down and in a sense trick us, bewitch us…

So, in that case… who is the fool?  Donne or the audience?

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